When Richard Lykes died in February 2009, he left the majority of his estate – about $2 million – to the Northern Piedmont Community Foundation. His only stipulation was that the money be used to benefit Rappahannock County, his adopted home. It is up to NPCF executive director Cole Johnson, and the rest of the foundation’s board, to decide how best to honor that request.
What does the county need? How can the quality of living in the county be improved?
To answer those questions, Johnson and the NPCF hosted a meeting of the minds Monday night (Oct. 24) at the Sperryville School House, inviting the heads of every nonprofit organization in the county, as well as those on the front lines of some of the neediest segments of our population: directors of health departments and social services.
“We want to be intelligent about spending this money, and we’d like to keep it in perpetuity if possible,” Johnson said. Aside from awarding grants to those in need of funding, she also sees the role of the NPCF as that of “convener,” an entity that draws together influential groups and citizens to help address the needs of the county. “What I’m hoping is, if we create a laundry list of community needs, and we can get nonprofit organizations and government organizations to come together to create solutions to some of these problems, then other people may step up.”
So Monday night, about 50 local community members and members of the NPCF advisory board attempted to “get down into the weeds” of county issues to determine needs. Appointed scribes from the advisory board, armed with permanent markers, scribbled the needs introduced by the predominantly public-minded audience on large sheets of paper. These lists will be made public, Johnson said. She refereed the discussion, holding speakers to three minutes at a time.
After-school programs, a resource center, elderly care, volunteer infrastructure, Internet and cell phone access, transportation for youth, adults and the elderly, government assistance for low income housing – once the discussion began, needs quickly rose to the surface.
According to Johnson, the two most encompassing needs that emerged were transportation (as a result of geographical isolation) and communication (as a result of decentralization of the county and minimal cell phone and Internet access).
“We want needs, not solutions,” Johnson said before opening the floor. “The solutions are the grant applications. For now we just want to know what’s out there.”
What do we need?
“An unmet need is preschool scholarships with a parent involvement component; that helps bring kids out of isolation and teaches proper parenting,” said Rose Ann Smythe, executive director of the Child Care and Learning Center. Smythe said that the pot of funding formerly used to provide low-income families with childcare has dwindled in the past five years. And that since less revenue is coming in from the state, social programs for children are the first to go. “Because children can’t vote.”
Rappahannock County schools superintendent Aldridge Boone agreed.
“That is one of the most important initiatives we can embark on,” Boone said, referring to Smythe’s mention of a need for early childhood programs, which could help give him a better idea of how many students will be entering each fall’s kindergarten class. Boone said there is a need for a summer program for children about to enter kindergarten, to properly prepare them for school, teaching etiquette and socialization skills.
Chris Miller, project manager for Aging Together, a regional partnership devoted to improving long-term care and supportive services for older adults and their families, addressed needs for the elderly community.
“There is a lack of programs based in this county, as well as opportunities for jobs,” Miller said. “We need a program that teaches low-income people receiving benefits from social services. We also need job training programs that benefit the elderly.”
Bill Walton, a a newcomer to the county and member of the NPCF advisory board, said that increased donor awareness is a need.
“I think what we’re talking about here, is we’re not only using this committee to allocate this money, but we also want to raise awareness among the donor community in the county, about things they ought to be doing to help the help people,” Walton said.
Headwaters Foundation executive director Jane Bowling-Wilson expressed the need for after-school programs for children.
“The young people of the county are probably one of the greatest investments that we have,” Bowling-Wilson said. “The schools are really very successful, with what they have to work with, but when you look at the big picture and what engages young people, it is that activity that they didn’t know existed the day before. It is the involvement with other children that makes them realize that they’re part of a community.”
Marsha Thompson, a family support worker with Healthy Families, a support program for new families, said that a number of families living in relative isolation down the county back roads have no reliable modes of transportation, and that even if they do receive benefits such as food stamps and Medicare, they may need to call a taxi (which requires a day’s advance notice, since there are no taxis in Rappahannock) to drive them to collect on those services.
“People that don’t have a car or a license that live in some areas of the county can’t get to jobs, can’t get to the grocery store,” Thompson said.
Brian Duncan, executive director of Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services said there is a need to establish a volunteer infrastructure.
“The infrastructure that’s in place now, in our locality, is shrinking and going unfunded,” Duncan said, “especially the the infrastructure that mobilizes volunteers for things like transportation, things like in-home care for seniors. There are models that we can use; this is not experimental stuff.”
With state funding eroding, Duncan said that RRCS work in prevention is increasingly, exclusively funded by donations.
George Stockes, executive director of S.A.F.E., which provides services to victims of domestic abuse and their families, pointed out the “paradox” of Rappahannock County.
“The beauty of our county is actually a detriment to our providing services,” Stockes said, adding that decreased state funding leaves his organization to pick and choose who gets service, often leaving victims in remote areas to fend for themselves. “And I think the answer lies in the youth.If you don’t change the youth, the problems will keep emerging over and over and over again. And we see it on our side. In a domestic violence situation, if a boy is in a domestic violence situation, the odds are 50 percent greater that he will grow up to be abusive. If we don’t invest in our youth, we’re probably in trouble.”
Jenny Kapsa, 4-H coordinator for Rappahannock County, identified the need for a community center for teens.
“One of the problems that I see is that kids, particularly teenagers, don’t have a place to go,” Kapsa said. “I think there needs to be a place for teens to go to have organized programs, and unorganized programs, so they can go do things like play basketball, or even just go and hang out.”
Jack Garber, executive director of the Piedmont United Way, said that most of the financial contributors in his five-county region don’t know about problems in Rappahannock, but that after listening to a few of the needs presented, he wants to become involved by providing funding to some of these programs. Garber stressed the need for multi-year grants, as opposed to one-year grants, to establish the foundation for lasting programs.
Garber also thinks that involving religious groups in the process would be wise.
“In the Culpeper area, and only in the Culpeper area so far, we have had a lot of success with the churches,” Garber said. “People go to church, and that’s where a lot of times they get their information. That’s where they go for help. That’s where clergy people might identify with these situations. And if we have our clergy involved in this process too, and continually keep them involved, that is a way that our resource information can get out.”
John Kiser, founder of the Benevolent Fund, which helps meet the emergency needs of county residents that cannot be met by government programs, said that involving the six local fire departments in addressing the needs of the county would be a benefit.
Rev. Jennings “Jenks” Hobson, also representing the Benevolent Fund, said there is a need for practical education for benefit recipients, to teach them how to wisely spend the money that they do have.
“Some of these people don’t have any idea how to make financial decisions,” Hobson said, adding that many Benevolent Fund recipients could also benefit greatly from practical education in parenting methods.
“You have begun to lay out serious and long-term needs of the county,” said Bill Dietel, a member of the NPCF investment committee. “And we do have people that are concerned about issues and do want to help. But what we need is a way to get those people – such as yourselves, who run or have hatched the organizations that are trying to individually address parts of the problem – together in the community. We don’t have an entity that pulls us together.
“The problems are real, and you all are hammering away at them, and rightly so,” Dietel said. “We have been in denial in this community about abusive treatment of women and children. The county doesn’t want to believe it, but it’s a fact. We’re in denial about the numbers of children who are in poverty, or near poverty. And that is an indictment of us all. But we can do something about it. And I would hope that, out of this meeting tonight will come some assistance for the NPCF. This funding is only a small part of what we can do.”
Karen Flynn, public health nurse for Rappahannock County, said that there is a need for a resource center, but one that encompasses government agencies as well.
Bill Walton said that high-speed Internet is a need.
“There’re a lot of telecommuting people that could work from their houses, which would help people make a living here,” Walton said. “You could also incubate small businesses. There’s a lot of Internet-based businesses now. If you could do that here it would bring in revenue, and solve some of these social issues. The cell tower debate was framed in terms of beauty of the county versus safety issues, but I think there’s a much larger issue, which is the social fabric of the county.”
Dave DeBoer, RCHS band director, said that there is a need for more opportunities for students to leave the county to see what else is out there.
“I just took my band to JMU to compete, and they saw the Marching Royal Dukes perform – and they all want to go to JMU now,” DeBoer said. “And that’s how quickly I think it works. When we get out of our isolation, and start taking our students places, they begin to see and appreciate what’s out there.”
Dana Bradshaw, medical director of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District, also said he sees after-school programs for students as a need.
“I think that it has been shown many times over that having available after-school activities for our youth really does prevent a lot of the other problems that you’ve got listed up there right now,” Bradshaw said. “To get them involved in a positive activity like band or sports or theatre, you could just go on and on. When those things aren’t available, they’re at home, maybe unsupervised with both parents at work.”
Steve Carroll, who serves on the Headwaters board, said he thinks there is a need for governmental involvement in providing housing.
Rachel Siegfried, the elementary school band director, sees a need for increased Internet accessibility in the county.
“A lot of our students don’t have Internet at home. If all of our students had the Internet, they could look up something like the Baltimore Symphony online and listen to a recording for school. Internet access would create a lot of learning opportunities for them.”
Superintendent Boone said that it would surprise most county residents that 36 percent of the county’s public school students receive free or reduced lunch, and that he believes many of those students are not being adequately fed at home.
“I truly believe that if we didn’t serve breakfast in the schools, there are some children that wouldn’t eat until lunch time,” Boone said.